Race Report #25: Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

This is part 2 of my Dark Side Challenge at the Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon weekend.  If you want to read my review of the 10k, you can find that here.

Okay!  When last we met, I was finishing up the Star Wars Dark Side 10K and then going to run another mile and a half chasing my kid around an inflatable obstacle course with a camera.  That was fun!  Really!  Enough that it requires multiple exclamation points!  But, it did leave me with a couple of challenges going into the second half of the Dark Side Challenge – the half marathon.

I was not, when I was chasing him, wearing running or technical equipment.  I didn’t have my compression shorts on.  And (and there is no way to do this but just to spit it out and get it over with) – I hadn’t prepared my nipples.  And though I didn’t leave that event actively hurting (other than my throbbing feet) … I did feel a sensitivity in the force, if you know what I mean.  Some gingerness in the upper thigh region.  A little scratchiness on the man nipples.

I had allowed myself to start chafing, is what I’m saying.

So I powdered and lotioned and did everything I knew how to do … and set my alarm for 2am and went to bed at 8pm.  The joys of an early runDisney start, and all of that.

My perspective on this race was different than my perspective on just about any race I’ve ever done.  I’m competitive.  I try not to be too competitive – in general, life is not a game – but I also know myself enough to know that if you call it a race then I’m going to try to win it in some way.  So it was a bit odd that I entered this one with the idea of not worrying too much about doing that.  I didn’t expect to PR, and I knew there were going to be places I wanted to stop to take pictures (Darth Maul!) – so just go out and have fun and get this finished, right?

Because of my experience on Saturday I had a much better idea of what to expect.  I got to Epcot at about 3:15, and when I got to the place we lined up for buses I discovered that they’d been running buses since 3am.  On the next bus I went and headed over to the same starting area as yesterday, where the lines were already looped back on themselves for pictures with characters.  Because I’d gotten Darth Vader, Boba Fett, and Jabba the Hutt the day before, I went for BB-8 first, and then for the Rogue One scene.  I decided to pass on Kylo Ren altogether – he is at Hollywood Studios every day, after all – and try to get Captain Phasma at the finish line.  I waited in line for probably 25 – 30 minutes for BB-8, and 15 or so for the Rogue One scene – and then off to pee.

After the 10K debacle with the urination, I was determined to avoid the discomfort this time.  I did my thing, then got a bagel at the concession stand.  Then got in line and peed again.  Then walked over to the corral area.  Then peed again, and immediately walked down to the end … and peed again.  I was not going to start the race needing to go.  This time I was in Corral D, so I headed down and stretched a little, and waited for our turn.  I was impressed again with the start.  I was in the 8th wave to start, and was probably running within 15 minutes of the start of the race.  They shot off fireworks for every wave, which was cool, and we were off.

The course followed the 10K course until we got to the parking gate for Magic Kingdom on World Drive.  The band was there playing the fanfare again (still the coolest music ever), and R2-D2 had a huge line again.  But this time, instead of heading down World Drive, we turned right and headed down a service road toward Animal Kingdom.  At this point, my choices from the day before started to have an impact – I was barely past mile 1 and I could already feel my nipples starting to get sensitive.  My friction defense stuff wasn’t going to get it this day – and though Vaseline is the kind of thing that makes a mess on a shirt, I preferred Vaseline nipples to bloody nipples.  Fortunately there was a medical stop very early on, and they had the good stuff out on popsicle sticks just waiting for us.  Frankly, that saved my race – it would have been excruciating without it.

Just past this we went through one of the best parts of the course.  It was still very dark, and on a long, straight stretch of road they kept it dark – very few floodlights.  But what there was a lot of was the Battle of Endor.  There were lasers coming out of the woods, Ewok sounds everywhere, and even explosions back in the trees to mimic AT-ATs or Walkers blowing up.  This went on for several minutes.  It was very, very cool.  I heard some grumbling after about how some of the flashing lights caused some momentary loss of vision – but I couldn’t have cared less about that.  As long as we didn’t do anything crazy I don’t think there was any real danger – and wow, was the effect very real.  We then ran past probably the longest character line on the course – they had Ewoks out!  Because of the length of the line I kept running, but that looked like a cool picture.

Next, at about mile 3, we went past another fan favorite section of the race – the solid waste plant for Walt Disney World!  There wasn’t anything to see here, but it basically smelled like you’d expect a place that treats shit to smell.  It smelled shitty.  I just got a whiff or two, and while unpleasant, thems the ropes – they had to get us from Magic Kingdom to Animal Kingdom somehow, and running past the shit plant was it.

Going in to Animal Kingdom the back way was interesting.  Around mile 4 we started to see things you see from the train over to Rafiki’s Planet Watch – some of the animal housing, etc.  We basically ran right past the Planet Watch area, and then over behind where you catch the train to Planet Watch, past some trailers that house who-knows-what, and then, bang, we were in the park.

This is in Dinoland – I remember thinking when it was taken that I hoped the dinosaur was visible in the background…

We came in right the left of the entrance to the Maharaja Jungle Trek, over by where the Kali River Rapids exit is.  We ran over past the Siamang Gibbons – which appeared to be hanging out together on the ropes – and headed around toward Expedition Everest.  I’ve never been in the Animal Kingdom at night, so I didn’t know they had that area around the mountain camp strung up with lights – it took an already very real-looking spot and made it look very authentic.  We ran past Everest, past the Finding Nemo theater, and into Dinoland, where we hit mile marker #5.

We left the Animal Kingdom over behind the gift shop in Dinoland, and were almost immediately greeted by members of the 501st Legion in full garb.  Emperor Palpatine was there, along with the Emperor’s guards in red.  Tuscan Raiders and Jawas were out, too.  Not stopping to get a picture with the Emperor and his guards was the first of two photo stops I regret not stopping for … but now I know.  And then we went straight into the doldrums of this race.

At about mile 5.5 we emerged from the service area into the Animal Kingdom parking lot.  We wound through the lot, past the second of two photo ops that I regret not stopping for … this time a scene with the Wampa in the ice cave on Hoth that was set up so that the picture looks like you’re hanging upside down and trying to get the light saber out of the snow.  In retrospect, missing that picture was my one big miss from this race.  I’ll run this whole race again next year just to get that picture.

And then we headed out onto Osceola Parkway.  From the parking lot emergence at mile 5.5 to the back entry to Hollywood Studios at about mile 9.5 the sole purpose of the course was to get us from Animal Kingdom to Hollywood Studios.  We were running on a straight flat road, then turned onto World Drive, and then merged with where the 10K course headed into the next park.  Nobody really likes this stretch of this race, and while there is some grumbling, I get it … if we want to run through all of these parks, we have to actually get there, and there is only one way to do that.  We have to run on roads.

At this point I had some decisions to make.  I was running well, and hadn’t stopped for any reason byhalfway on the course.  I needed to decide if I was going to push through and try to get a good time or if I was going to really back off and enjoy the parks in the last 4 miles.  At the halfway point of the course, I was about two or three minutes behind PR pace.  But with a bunch of flat road running ahead, there was a chance I could start chipping into that.  I struggled with that decision for a few minutes, but ultimately decided not to hurt myself and backed off.

This was also the stretch that featured one of the more interesting little quirks of this race.  runDisney partners with Jeff Galloway, who is a proponent of the run/walk system when doing these big races.  The races are loaded with Galloway folks – many with audible timers that tell them when to pull over and start walking.  For the most part, this is no problem.  The runners generally do a good job of signaling and not getting run over, so my thought is run your own race.  There were also pace groups doing the run/walk method, with a leader carrying a sign that would signal the walking times.  During this stretch, I was just ahead of the 2:30 pace group, and they would sneak up on me.  I’d be in my own little world, and suddenly, alarmingly close, somebody would yell “Walk!” and startle me into speeding up a little.  I’d take off, pull away from them, and then a few minutes later we’d go through the same deal.  It was an interesting little back and forth.  What finally broke it up was that I ran into a fellow Celebration Crossfitter (hi, Michele!) and wound up ignoring that pace group.  It was about here that I started my own run/walk strategy, especially walking up any inclines and running down the other side.  And it was here that they had the water stop giving out energy gels, which really made a difference for me.

When we got to the back entrance of Hollywood Studios at mile 9.5, we also got to the one character photo I was determined to get, regardless of line – Darth Maul.  The line wound up being very short – I still completed the mile it was in in about 13 minutes, so I had maybe a 2 minute wait.  The Darth Maul costume is awesome, by the way – the way they do that really makes that guy look real.  This picture made me happy.

Citizen!


Jazz hands!

Inside Hollywood Studios we had exactly the same run as we’d had the day before.  This time I stopped for a quick picture with some Stormtroopers – I said “guys” when I walked up, and got “Citizen!” in return.  I then took off and smiled for the batch of photographers they’ve got through this stretch, and then we headed out toward the Boardwalk.  Unlike yesterday, this time we turned right and headed down the Boardwalk proper, and when we turned the corner there were crowds for the first time on the course.  Holding signs – my favorites of which were “I am proud of you, perfect stranger!” and the one that quoted Alice in Wonderland “Well after this I should think nothing of falling down stairs.”  There were also members of the 501st Legion here, too, as well as a Rey and some other characters.  And then we headed into the back entrance of Epcot.

Boardwalk Joe’s Marvelous Margaritas

Again a difference from the day before – when we emerged behind the Rose and Crown we turned right and headed around the entire World Showcase.  This time I was prepared for the music to be blaring, so the headphones came off and stayed off for the duration of the run.  They opened Epcot up to guests right after we got in there, so by the time I got to about Mexico there were people walking through looking at us like we were crazy.  The best part of that World Showcase stretch, other than the music and the atmosphere and, you know, Epcot, was that several of the cast members that worked in those pavilions were out waving their country’s flag and cheering us on in their language.  This was true for Italy, Germany, China – a very nice little feature.

That’s France in the background…


And Morocco…

And then when we got to the main entry way behind Spaceship Earth the course was exactly what we did for the 10k.  The 501st had folks stationed in the area – my favorite was the Scout Trooper – and then we wound around through the finish chute and that was it.  I was again in the top third of all finishers (4,393 / 16,302) and since I was in a relatively early corral there was basically no congestion through the finish chute.  This time we collected our challenge medals as we went through that part of the chute, and then the snack box and through gear check and we were back out into the public area.  I immediately went and got in line for a picture with Captain Phasma, and then after a quick run through the merchandise tent I headed to the car.

My finish time was 2:30.08, which is 8 minutes and 16 seconds behind the PR I set back in January.  Especially given the photo stops and the humidity and the 10k I ran the day before, I’m thrilled with that time.  For perspective, even with the photo stops, that would have been a nearly 5 minute PR for me if I hadn’t run that half marathon in January.  And I didn’t train well for this one.  I’m in the best shape I’ve been in since high school, and that extends to being able to complete a half marathon on very little running-specific training.  The incredibly shrinking Matthew is becoming athletic Matthew, and I couldn’t be happier.

Notes:

  • Again very, very impressed with the organization of this race and the course. Over 16k people ran the half (which is apparently fairly small for a runDisney half, though I imagine they did OK and the proximity to Easter and Spring Break didn’t really help).  I had very little congestion, there was great support all over the course, and in general that was as smooth as an event that size could have been from my perspective.  Admittedly I was fortunate enough to be in a relatively early corral … but still.  Great job.
  • The humidity was pretty brutal. I’m used to it, but I can only imagine what it must have been like for folks that traveled in from the Northeast or upper Midwest.  My Garmin showed a starting temperature of 72 degrees, and that was at 5:30.  By the time I got into the World Showcase the sweat had gotten into my socks and I was squishing when I walked.  It was pretty rough.  Which is funny, because the week before and the week since have featured perfect weather – cooler and less humid.  Florida!
  • Ever since we got our Disney passes I’ve maintained that my favorite park was Animal Kingdom. And I love Animal Kingdom, I do.  But I’ve finally come around on Epcot and changed my mind – what a hell of a place Epcot is.  It doesn’t hurt to have Star Wars music blaring while you are running through there feeling like you accomplished something, but still.  I plan on going back to Epcot hopefully very soon and just reveling in it.
  • I dealt with very little pain in my legs this time. Since I started at a much more reasonable pace my shins and calves never did freeze up, so mostly I was just fighting fatigue and the general beating 13 miles puts on your legs.
  • I mentioned running into fellow CCF athlete Michele – she unknowingly flipped a switch for me that I don’t particularly like that I have. It is one thing to be struggling along doing your own thing with thousands of people you don’t know.  But now that there is somebody you know in proximity, well … now we’re racing.  I’ll bet I finished 2 – 3 minutes faster than I would have otherwise.  That competitiveness is not exactly something I’m proud of, but it exists.  I recognized it for what it was and decided to use it to help me get through this time.  So, yeah …
  • At about mile 8 I let the 2:30 Galloway pace group go … and I never saw them again. Which is odd considering that we started at the same time and I finished in exactly 2 hours and 30 minutes.
  • I really only truly regret missing that one ice cave picture with the Wampa. Could be worse.

  • SWAG was as discussed in the last post – three very nice technical shirts (one each for my 10k, half marathon, and the Dark Side Challenge for running both), three heavy medals, and a very personalized bib. Since my annual pass includes the PhotoPass, I didn’t have to pay for any pictures – which is one hell of a nice perk.  And they did have the Virtual Goody Bag online, which was mostly discounts for stuff at the expo.  Also at the end there were full bottles of water and Powerade plus the snack box and bananas.  Overall, it felt very high-end.
  • Next Race – the next one I have scheduled is Ragnar Washington DC in September. I doubt I make it that far without at least running a 5k somewhere, but we’ll see.

Final thoughts – this was one hell of a fun weekend.  It will not be my last runDisney race.

And may the force be with you.

Race Report #23: Celebration Half Marathon

When I registered for the Celebration Half Marathon, I actually viewed it as more of a training run than a goal race.  I’m registered for the Gasparilla Half Marathon in late February, and I had registered so early that I believed I could get in a “practice” half marathon and still have time to recover for a real push at Gasparilla.  Also – I live in Celebration.  It felt like if I were going to be doing a 12 or 13 mile training run in town, I might as well get a medal for it.  All indications are that the race is very well run and very runner friendly … so I signed up.

Training went well.  I’ve clearly gotten faster, which I attribute largely to endurance gained with Crossfit.  My taper was very non-traditional – two weeks before the race I ran most of the actual course, about 12.25 miles by the time I was done.  And then I didn’t go for another formal run for those two weeks.  I went to Crossfit 6 days a week, and that often included running, but at no time did I go out for a run.  For dinner on Saturday night I made a chicken barley soup and homemade bread to carb up, and called it a taper.  My prior half marathon PR was 2:36 flat – my stated goal going into this was a PR, my secondary but really no-brainer goal was under 2:30, my stretch goal was under 2:25, and in my wildest dreams I hoped to get under 2:20.

Florida in January is generally a glorious place to be.  For the last several weeks the highs have been from the mid-70s to the mid-80s, with lots of sunshine and low(ish) humidity.  Winter training here is a completely different thing than winter training in New York.  Everything was going great until we started checking the forecast a week or so out – mid to upper 40s and rain.  From like 4am to 10am on that Sunday – the exact window that the race was scheduled to run in – Central Florida was going to get rain.

<sigh>

The race expo was at town hall, from 5pm to 9pm on Friday and 10am to 6pm on Saturday.  My thought was that I’d get there right around 5 on Friday and beat the rush.  Apparently that was a good idea, because by the time I got there the line to pick up bibs was quite long.  They moved it along quickly, though, and we got our bibs and a bag full of coupons and headed inside to the expo.  We all got very nice steel tumblers as part of our SWAG (very nice), and my bib number won a door prize – which was one of last year’s shirts.  The shirts we all got this year are very nice, and there was a small but nice expo with several vendors and local companies.  Then I did my best to stay off my feet until Sunday morning.

Race day, I got up 20 minutes earlier than normal, ate my traditional pre-race oatmeal and coffee (got to keep things, well, moving) and prepped up.  Because of the rain I had purchased a throw-away rain jacket at BJs for $13, and tried to dress warmly but not too- warmly.  The walk down to the start line was a bit over a mile, and about halfway there I passed a parking lot and entered the masses.  I’d brought along a coat in a gear check bag, so when I made it downtown I went and checked that at the very neat little area they had set up and then started wandering around trying to stay warm.  I knew several people running the race, but never did see any of them before we got started.  Of course, there were 2,500 of us milling about between the half and the full, not including family and volunteers, etc.

celebration-half-start-line

The corrals were not formal, but there were plenty of signs designating where to start.  There were also professional pacers scattered throughout, so there was plenty of signage.  Lots of port-a-potties, so I got one last stop in, and then lined up just in front of the pacer with the 11:05 pace sign.  National Anthem, 3-2-1 go, and we were off.  I dropped my raincoat just on the other side of the start line and the race was on.

Lots of congestion early on.  The first mile of the course features several turns through a nice neighborhood, which is lovely when you’re running with a handful of people.  When you’re running with several hundred, though, those turns really bog down as people try to run the tangents.  Also, and I hate to be negative about this, but there is really no excuse in a start area this well signed for people that are going to be walking within the first mile to have been in front of me.  There were a few people running a Galloway-type run-walk program, some even with beepers, but they were all very courteous about stops and starts and stayed over to the side.  Other than that, though, if you’re going to be walking that early, line up farther back.  <sigh>  My first mile was the third slowest, at 11:09.

celebration-half-route

Right at the first mile marker, two things happened.  First, we turned out of that neighborhood and began running a much more straight course, which cleared up much of the congestion.  Another, though, was the first of the spectators that was specifically cheering for a group of friends running the race, including me.  She and her kids had created a sign with “You Can Do It!” on one side and “Go <insert names here>!” on the other.  I could tell I was the first of our group to go by, because I seemed to take her by surprise, and by the time she got the sign turned around I was already by.  That kind of support, though, makes a monster difference – it was cool.  My second mile settled into very comfortable pace and came in at 10:39.

The third mile is a big out-and-back through a neighborhood called North Village.  I don’t like out-and-backs, but I had practiced this particular one several times since I knew I’d be running it.  I passed the time on the way out scanning the runners that were coming back, and then vice-versa on the way back.  I didn’t recognize anybody, but it sure made the miles go faster.  Mile 3 was a 10:38 mile.

This course is very, very flat.  Over the whole 13.1 miles, my Garmin only picked up 32 feet of elevation gain, total – and that’s not net, just the number going up.  Mile 4 goes through a stretch, though, that I’ve always felt like is slightly downhill.  Any time I run that stretch I always feel great going through there, and this time was no different.  Nothing remarkable – we wound around near the Water Tower Shoppes and then ran in front of the Disney offices here in town, headed toward the hospital.  Only one turn in mile 4, which helped it come in at 10:31.   At this point I was feeling very good and knew I had a very good chance to hit my goals, even the stretch or dream goals.  The rain had been spitting all morning, and it was chilly, but overall things were going very well.

For mile 5, we wound in around behind the Celebration Hospital, running through their parking lot and access road.  Here I should also say that the support on-course was GREAT.  There were police and volunteers at every intersection, and water stops with water and Gatorade at very regular intervals.  Particularly with the weather like it was, it was great to have that much support.  In my practice run two weeks before, I had refueled with a Lara Bar at the end of mile 5.  It felt too heavy on my stomach, so this time I brought lighter Nutri-Grain bars.  There was a water stop just before the mile marker, so I took my first walk break to eat that bar and wash it down.  Because of that little stop, mile 5 was a bit slower at 10:50.

At that point, though, we turned off onto a roughly 2.5 mile stretch of just straight running.  They had blocked off a lane on the main road coming into town and we had the whole thing for that stretch.  Wide lanes, no turns, just running, leads to good splits, and miles 6 and 7 were my fastest in the race – 10:29 and 10:21, respectively.  The marathon organizers had several signs printed up to line this stretch (“You’re running better than the government!” and “Hurry up marathoners, the half-marathoners are eating all the food!”, etc.)  There were also a few spectators, including one couple that had a big sign “Free Gatorade for runners!” and a cooler full of 20oz Gatorades.  Again, the support means a great deal.   These miles seemed to fly by, and I hit the official 10K split in 1:06.44, which is less than 3 minutes off of my 10K PR that I set on Thanksgiving.  And I still felt strong.

Just after the mile 7 marker we turned off onto a potentially hazardous stretch.  Celebration was basically built on a big swamp, and throughout town there are miles of paths that include boardwalks through some of the old forest.  These boardwalks are very nice, and make a lovely stroll or even a run under normal circumstances.  They are also very slippery when they get wet – and it was raining.  Between that and how narrow they are, we were warned multiple times to be very careful, and to stay right unless passing but don’t even really do that.  Most of mile 8 was on a boardwalk, and though I didn’t see any accidents or incidents, I also slowed down to a manageable 10:48 pace.  I both wanted to stay safe and also wanted to start conserving energy – my legs were starting to feel the miles, and about mile 9 was when I bonked pretty hard on my long training run.  So I throttled back a bit, and in the end this was the right strategy.

2017-01-29-09-21-37-1

At about mile 8.5 we came off of the boardwalk and crossed over a bridge into a neighborhood called Artisan Park for about 1.5 miles.  That bridge is the only way in and out of Artisan Park, so that’s where I’d told my wife to be if she wanted to bring the kids to cheer.  Both of my kids, but particularly the young one, have been pretty sick lately – and it was raining – so I had told her the night before that if they couldn’t make it I would not have my feelings hurt.  It was more important to keep everybody healthy than to get them all wet.  So I rounded that corner not knowing what to think – and there they were!  Part of my motivation for doing all of this is to be a good role model for my kids – I want them to see their Daddy doing healthy things and making active choices and living that kind of life.  And so when they see me and smile and give me fives and act excited – well, there really isn’t anything better.  It was awesome.  Just past my family I took another walk break to eat my second Nutri-Grain bar.  Between stopping to say hi and then eating that bar, mile 9 was by far my slowest at 11:29.

I have a standard loop that I do through Artisan Park … and this course actually cuts that loop off, making it feel like I’m cheating.  That helped.  I also saw another group of spectators that I knew – some friends live down in Artisan Park, and the wife was also running the race.  It is always good to get personalized words of encouragement – in this case a big “Go Hogs!” in reference to the Arkansas Razorbacks pullover I was wearing.  This got me through mile 10 in 10:37.  We also crossed the 15k mat in Artisan Park – my official 15k split was 1:40.44, which is nearly a 9 minute PR at that distance.

2017-01-29-09-22-49

My family was still there when I came back over the bridge – so another round of high fives and smiles later, I had my motivation to finish.  The final three miles are always a mental exercise, making sure your mind doesn’t tell your body to stop.  At this point I knew that I was going to finish in under 2:25, and what kept me going was the chance at getting under 2:20.  But I was also tired, so I started hitting every water stop … and then it was just put your head down and get to the finish.  Mile 11 goes through a little neighborhood called Aquila Loop (10:54), Mile 12 is partly in East Village and partly on a very nice path on the back edge of town all the way to Lake Evalyn (11:11), and then at the beginning of Mile 13 the full marathon course turns for its second loop and the half marathoners loop around behind the main lake in town, cross through the original startline, and wind around to the finish right in the middle of downtown.  In Mile 13 the rain picked up a little, but it was an 11:00 mile, and that last 0.1 mile I did at a 10:00 pace, to finish in 2:21.52.

Nearly a 15 minute PR!

celebration-half-preliminary-results

So, yeah, I was pretty amped up.  They’ve got a chute set up to run through at the finish, and they were calling names.  Lots of people were cheering, music, a great atmosphere.  In the chute we got our medals, a Clif bar, a bottle of water, orange slices, bananas, and a little cover-up from the rain.  I inhaled all of that that was edible, probably through a big smile.  I went over and retrieved my checked bag so I could put a heavier coat on, and then cheered the other runners until my friends came by.  At about 2:40 the winner of the full marathon came through, flying – I saw him coming and thought “Wow, that guy is running fast” before I could see his bib and tell he had run a completely different race.  Once everybody around me realized what he was, there was a really big cheer.  It is impressive watching somebody do something you can’t.

And at that point I headed to the after-party, which is really really great for a race this size.  All of the local restaurants had a tent set up with food.  You got a card with all of their logos on it, which entitled you to a sample at their tent.  It was awesome.  We got two beers at the beer tent, a mimosa at that tent, and the restaurants had awesome food – standouts were the clam chowder from the Tavern, the black beans and rice from the Columbia, and the chili from Market Street diner.  Café D’Antonio had big doughy pizza, and Upper Crust had hot rolls.  I didn’t make it to all of the tents, but I know Imperium Wine and Avocado’s Mexican were out there, too – as well as Starbucks.  Just an awesome perk for the runners.

2017-01-29-10-25-14

I could not be happier with that run.  My training was good, but at the end of the day my mileage was lower than when I trained for the half marathons I did in the past.  I’m convinced that the difference is Crossfit – my cardiovascular endurance, as well as my leg and core strength, are drastically improved from what they were, and I got there without pounding my legs out on all of those miles.  To be this much faster than before, AND injury free, is an awesome feeling.

If you’re looking for a small, flat, fast, runner-friendly race, I’m not sure you could possibly do any better than the Celebration Marathon and Half Marathon.

15 minutes!

Notes:

  • Everybody on social media is raving about the race, as well they should. Lest I be considered biased, there is one decent complaint – the area where they do the bag check is not covered, and if you didn’t put your stuff inside something waterproof in your bag, your stuff probably got wet.  Mine did.  That was a bit annoying – to have thought ahead to pack a dry warm coat, and then have it be pretty wet, was not what I was looking for.  BUT – it wasn’t all that bad, and I’m going to give them a break.  I’m going to bet they haven’t seen weather this crappy since they started this race, and I’ll also bet that the next time it rains on race day they’ll have a solve for this.  At the end of the day, this was pretty minor.
  • It turns out that I’m not going to be running Gasparilla – the cost and logistics of getting to that area on that day are just prohibitive, and the Crossfit Open starts that weekend. Also, it’ll be nice to take a break from training for a race – though it’ll be a short break, because the next one is not that far out.  All of that to say – running this was absolutely the right call, all the way around.
  • There is something really odd about running a decently big goal-type race in your own town when you walk to and from the starting line. These are routes I run all the time, and this was just like a training run – except with a couple thousand of my closest friends, and water stops along the way.  Kind of surreal, really.  I imagine it’ll be even worse the next time I get out there to do a regular run.
  • The encouragement I got from my Crossfit box was incredible, and really means a lot. A couple of my fellow athletes also ran (go Nanette, Joanne, and Brooke!) also ran, and I got several texts and other encouragement from others.  The community is the best part of Crossfit, and this is just another example of that.
  • Also a big congrats to Holly and Elizabeth for killing that race, and thanks to Laura and William for standing out in the rain with a sign. I’ve never lived in a community where friends all root for friends like this.  I like it.
  • This race is worth it for the food after. Seriously – the beans and rice from the Columbia was absolutely perfect after this.  Also, for dinner that evening we came back down to the Tavern and I absolutely crushed a cheeseburger & fries & onion rings & beers & a post-race meal that I’d been planning for several days.
  • Back on the wagon on Monday morning, though.
  • Speaking of Monday morning – I had a checkup with my doctor the morning after the race. The nurse that took my vitals engaged me in my single favorite medical interaction of all time:

Nurse:  Is your pulse always very low?

Me:  Oh, uh … I run.

Nurse:  Ah – ok.

End of conversation.

(for the record, my resting pulse was 45 bpm) (#running)

  • The SWAG was awesome, too – our shirt was organic cotton from RawThreads, and is a shirt I’ll actually wear. The steel tumbler is exceptionally nice, and unlike anything I’ve ever gotten in race SWAG before.  And the flyers and coupons included are all for discounts for local restaurants and stores – which is handy, because I actually live here and may use them.  There was also a light-up safety arm band and something they called a “buff”, which really saved my ears going to and from the race.celebration-half-swag
  • My next scheduled race is The Dark Side Challenge on April 22nd and 23rd at Disney World. That’s Star Wars Dark Side weekend, and I’ll be running the 10K on Saturday and half marathon on Sunday.  Which, in retrospect, was crazy for me to sign up for.  May the force be with me.

 

RR#13 – Rock ‘n’ Roll USA Half Marathon

So … I was a bit nervous about this race.

My original registration for Rock ‘n’ Roll USA was for the full marathon – it was to be my first.  And then I learned why people that live as far north as I do don’t often register for early spring marathons.  As I got further and further behind in my training, I realized that I was not going to make it … and so I switched over to the half and took a deep breath.  And my training was not really great even then – just too many distractions excuses and such.  And I even entertained the thought of backing out altogether.

And then I realized that was crazy talk.  Even if I had to walk it, I could do it – and even with relatively poor training I’m in better shape than I was last September when I did the half in 90 degree heat.   So I committed to making it happen, and I am so glad I did.  This was an awesome race.

Got to the expo on Friday afternoon and was confronted with a line out the door.  That wasn’t the Rock ‘n’ Roll folks, though – because the expo was in the DC Armory we were being screened by security.  That went quickly enough, and then I had no wait at all to pick up my number and get to the shopping.   My wife and 2-year old were with me on this one, so that got interesting – and a great big THANK YOU to the folks at the Williamsburg Marathon booth that gave him the Chik-Fil-A stuffed cow.  Anything to distract him at that point.

We were staying at my brother-in-law’s house in Alexandria, which is on the metro.  My morning nutrition was not optimal:  granola bars at their house and a banana at the race.  Not enough, but that turned out OK.  WMATA opened up the metro two hours early, and getting to the start could not have been easier.  It was so easy that I’d left myself entirely too much time and wound up needing to kill an hour.

Starting Line - I'm way back in Corral 27

Starting Line – I’m way back in Corral 27

This was easily the biggest race I’ve ever been a part of – I was in corral 27 and there were an awful lot of people behind me.  If you’ve ever done a Rock ‘n’ Roll race you know there is a ton of energy at the start line, which is nice … because it took 45 minutes for me to get to the start line.  And we were off.

The course itself was absolutely great, and we got nearly perfect weather.  We started on Constitution Avenue – my corral was directly in front of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History – and headed down the mall.  In the first mile we ran past the Washington Monument and the White House headed toward the Lincoln Memorial.  Mile 2 was an out-and-back on the Arlington Memorial Bridge with a gorgeous view of the cemetery.  Miles 3-6 were up the Potomac Parkway, so relatively quiet but very pretty.

Somewhere between mile 4 & mile 6

Somewhere between mile 4 & mile 6

 

Mile 7 had The Hill, which, um, sucked.  Once we topped out on the hill we ran near the National Zoo and then were in the Adams Morgan neighborhood.  From there on, the course was distinctly urban with GREAT crowd support.  That area is full of row houses and people were out on their stoops and porches and lining the streets cheering and holding signs.  The Rock ‘n’ Roll folks always have bands along the course … roughly one per mile.  I bring that up here because the absolute best was the Batala Drummers All-Women Percussion Band.  They were set up at the bottom of a big hill just as we turned to run through Howard University.   Hard to describe how very cool this was…

 

Another very interesting thing happened at roughly mile 9, just before we turned south on North Capitol Street and had that gorgeous view of the US Capitol.  I’ve been in races where somebody random sets up a table with “Free Beer!” or “Mixed Drinks!”  These are awesome, but not for me.  And so I almost ran by one of these tables until I realized the sign continued.  “Free Beer” was followed by “Free Brisket!”  And, yeah, I couldn’t not check that out.  And while a big ol’ slice of brisket is non-traditional mid-race fuel … it was incredible.

Incredible.

After we turned off of Capitol Street we wound through different neighborhoods for the last 4 miles or so for a finish at RFK Stadium.  The marathoners and half-marathoners split up just before mile 13, and the thought at that time of taking for another 13 miles made me cringe.  That’s going to happen, but not soon.

My family missed my finish by about 10 minutes, which legitimately sucked, but I was very very happy with my race.  My pacing was remarkably consistent – the fastest mile was mile 4 at 11.15 (because that’s always my best mile) and my slowest was mile 7 at 12.37 (because hill – 271 feet of elevation gain in that mile).  My overall time was 2:36.0, for a total pace of 11.54 / mile.  That takes nearly 19 (19!) minutes off of my previous half marathon time.  I also set PRs with my official 10K (1:13.04, nearly a 2 minute PR) and 10 mile (1:58.34) splits.

Here’s where I think I am – this is the race I had expected hoped to run in Virginia Beach last summer.  The conditions forced a much different race, though.  But I’ve been able to maintain that level of fitness through this winter even though I don’t feel great about my training.  The huge PR is a great validation of where I’ve gotten to – and I am feeling very motivated to blow right past here.  I’ve got another half scheduled for late spring, and I hope to blow that one away.

In the meantime – I LOVED this race.  The Rock ‘n’ Roll people did a great job with everything as far as I could tell.  And the overall vibe from the competitors, spectators, and city was just some of the most fun I’ve had running.   Thanks for everybody that worked on it and came out to cheer – you made it an awesome experience!

Approaching the finish line...

Approaching the finish line…

Notes:

–  Apparently the Rock ‘n’ Roll folks had some troubles at this race last year, especially with port-a-potties and the gear check.  They made a lot of noise about listening to the complaints and changing things, and by all accounts they got it right.  While there were lines at the port-a-potties throughout the race, the start and finish seemed to be fine.  And I didn’t check a gear bag because my family was coming, but the feedback is that they fixed that, too.  Kudos to the organizers for making it happen.

–  Speaking of port-a-potties, I had to make a pit stop just past mile 9 and lets just say that glad I’m a guy and move on.

–  I struggled with my fuel belt, strictly due to lack of practice.  I started the race with it on my back, but the way it bounced and pushed on my shorts was not comfortable.  So I turned it around like you see in the pictures up there … which blocked the pockets I usually keep my iPod in in that pullover.  So I wound up carrying the iPod in my hand for most of the race. The two times I tried to put it in the pocket interfered with the water bottle in the belt and made it fall out.  So … in the hand it was.  That’s what I get for using something I hadn’t used in 6 weeks.

–  Favorite signs:

  • Series:  “Harder Faster Stronger Better” followed by “That’s What She Said”
  • “Where Are All You Guys Going?”
  • “Its Not a Hill, Its a Beastmaker”
  • “Free High Fives” followed by two little kids, probably 6ish and 4ish

–  For whatever reason the nutrition didn’t hurt me.  I started fueling with gel relatively early and I think that helped.

–  It turns out that I’ve become a bit of a snob about walkers.  Not that I mind the walking, mind you – I do some of that myself.  But, for the love of Joe Pesci, when you are going to stop and walk move over to the side of the crowd.  Especially in the first mile or two when there is still a lot of congestion.

–  At around mile 25 for them the full marathoners came around the back of the parking lot where the finish line festival was.  My son and I walked over to cheer them on for a bit.  I’ve just got a ton of respect for those folks … they’d been running for 4 hours or so and just looked beaten down.  I can only imagine how they felt when they finished.  I want to feel that some day.

–  Not really any SWAG at this one, which is interesting.  The shirt is a Brooks technical that I like but caused some bitching because it is black.  People will complain about anything, I guess.  We got that and our gear bag and a couple of random little medical things (basically icy hot) … but that’s OK.  I did pick up my pint glass and 13.1 sticker, and then we did a little damage at the expo.  I intended to get my medal engraved like I did at Virginia Beach, but the wait was too long.  That does not take away from the medal, though, which is pretty awesome.

–  That was March’s race, which means I’ve now run in a race or an event in 13 consecutive months.  I am registered for a 5K in April, another half marathon in May, and a 5-miler (automatic PR!) in June.  Targeting an 8-miler (another automatic PR!) in July and a 10K in August.  And then Ragnar Tennessee in October.  So when I get September figured out that gets me to 20 months.  Who’d have thunk it?

–  Next Race:  JFK Runway Run, Queens, New York City, NY … April 6th

Another medal on the wall...

Another medal on the wall…

Pulling the Plug

Today I changed my registration at the Rock & Roll USA event from the marathon to the half marathon.  And I’m having a bit of a sad.

There are a lot of excuses reasons, but the bottom line is that I’m not ready.  And I don’t have enough time between now and then to get ready.    My primary goal when I attempt a marathon is to do the most possible to set myself up for success – which is defined as finishing within the time limit.  I’ve seen enough examples of folks that rushed into their first marathon and felt relatively strong right up until mile 20 or 22, when they were asked to leave the course and bussed to the finish line and given a medal.

I don’t want that.  I want to cover all 26.2 miles myself.  And I want to know that my medal is a true “finisher’s” medal.  This is not to take away from those that have done that and are proud of it – however you earned that medal, you have a right to be proud of it.  But I want my experience to be different.  I just do.

For the record, I’m not hurt.  I’m just dozens and dozens of miles behind in my training, and the way the weather and my calendar are going I’m not going to be able to make it up.   And, therefore, it is time for a change.

I’ve been struggling with this decision for a week or so.  One of the things that is remarkable to me is how hard it has been to decide to back away from the marathon.  There is a true multi-layered investment in making a decision to run a marathon.  I can think of at least three layers:

  1.  Physical – This is going to hurt at some level.  Your body physically commits to doing this, and as you start pushing the edges of what you consider possible you are doubling down on the physical commitment that you made.
  2. Time – I have spent hours and hours running to get ready for this.  My 16 mile run last weekend took over 3 hours alone.  And though I understood there was a time commitment, I don’t think I fully understood how difficult it is.  One often overlooked element of this one is that a commitment you make of your time is not just yours – your family shares in that commitment.  They give up that time with you, and so they had better be on board.  That was not an acute problem for me – my family has been very supportive – but I am acutely aware of their commitment, too.
  3. Emotional – There is a certain level of energy required to mentally prepare for a marathon.  And a large piece of that requirement involves believing, all the way down, that this is something that you can and will do.  You have to make success a part of your emotional core.  This marathon “thing” becomes like its own living entity within you.  And when it comes time to think about letting it go … that’s an emotional decision, and making it comes with emotional baggage and, frankly, a mourning period.

My mourning period just started.  I am hoping it goes quickly and I can start embracing the new half marathon PR that I’m going to go get.  In the meantime, I will try and dwell on how great it feels to be in good enough shape that I can consider running a half marathon in 6 weeks not just achievable but, without injury, a done deal.  In the long run I don’t want to settle for that … but for now, I will take it.

Also – I’m ready for spring now.

Throwback Thursday Race Report – RR #6, Rock ‘n’ Roll Virginia Beach Half Marathon

(I’m a member of the Running Fools board over on The Motley Fool, and when I started running again they were the ones I went to to talk about it.  I’ve made it a point to do race reports after my events … and I’m going to be posting those throwback reports here to get us up-to-date.  This was my first half marathon, in Virginia Beach, Virginia.  This report was written in September, 2013.)

Short Version: I was warned (here http://boards.fool.com/so-rnr-half-is-an-ok-race-if-you-foll…) … but I did it.

And the longer version isn’t all that different from the short version – it was a miserably hot and humid day. They’re reporting that one person died (though that wasn’t necessarily the heat … it happened at the first mile marker and there was a lot of blood, apparently) and thirteen people had to be taken to the hospital with things like dehydration, heat stroke, etc. A week ago they were forecasting a high of 80, and it wound up being more like 90 and brutal humidity. Yeah.

True Story

True Story

My training, I think, was spot on. My really long run was a negative split 11-miler two weeks before the race. My taper went as planned, and I felt strong. I had the traditional pasta carbo-load the night before, and my traditional race morning breakfast of steel-cut oats. I couldn’t have done anything differently … I believe that.

The race started “right,” too. Miles 1, 2, & 3 were all the exact same pace and were exactly my goal pace. Mile 4 was only 10 seconds slower, but that was the mile where we had the hill. And mile 5 was about 45 seconds slower, but that was the first water stop that I actually used (I was carrying a water bottle so skipped the first handful of stops). So, through mile 5, my times reflect that my race strategy was going perfectly.

And then I completely melted down in Mile 6, and ran that mile and each subsequent mile nearly 2 minutes per mile slower than my goal pace. Holy crap. It was at the 10k split that I knew my “outside chance” goal was off the table, and by Mile 9 I knew my stated race goal was a goner. I and the people around me were like the walking dead at that point, shuffling through as best we could. By the time we got to the boardwalk for the last mile to the finish we were mostly only running when we saw photographers or because it just seemed like we should have.

Holy balls it was hot

Holy balls it was hot

I’d expected a total zoo in the chute after the finish line, but it wasn’t so bad – tons of people and tons of help. I almost passed out at one point before I got some food in me. But, well, I did it. I found out my chip time when I had it engraved on the back of my medal – which is something I felt I should do for my first half-marathon – and I wound up being just under 10 minutes slower than my stated goal time. But some friends I was running the race with confirmed what Kevin said in the link above – EVERYBODY runs this thing 15 – 30 minutes slower than they normally would. Which means I’m ecstatic about my finish.

Now for a bit of the personal before my usual notes – in April of 2012 I saw one of those pictures that you read about where I didn’t recognize myself, I’d gotten so fat. I stepped on a scale and the number scared me to death, and I signed up for Weight Watchers that week. I lost 35 pounds pretty quickly, but after a difficult summer gained 20 of it back just as quickly. I was in a funk and didn’t know what to do about it. And then a friend emailed me and told me about this Ragnar Relay he had just run and how much fun it was … and suggested that I might want to do it. And when I asked him if he thought I could, he said 100% and then said one of the more important things anybody has ever said to me. He said “and when you do, you’ll be one of the select few people who are able to say they actually followed through.” The running got me out of my funk, and since April of 2012 I have lost 55 pounds and completed a half-marathon that sent people to the hospital. And in October I’m going to run that Ragnar and follow through.

And it feels good.

Notes:

– I either overestimated how much entertainment there was going to be on the course or underestimated how important my iPod is to my training – because I missed it badly. I listen to audiobooks, not music, so it is merely a distraction and not an adrenaline boost – but there were times I could have used the distraction. I now have to determine whether I want to stop using it during my training or go ahead and use it during all future races.

– Even though I’ve spent years down there and I know it, it is always jarring to be reminded how much of a military town Virginia Beach is. The absolute best were the Navy guys at the Mile 5 water stop singing Anchors Aweigh – absolutely incredible. And there was also the man (and his daughters) running in honor of his son and carrying an American Flag through the race. To Kevin and all of the others on this board that have served or are serving – thank you for your sacrifice and your service.

– That was the last time I’ll ever run in that pair of shoes – which is the only one I’ve had since I started back up. 415 miles on those shoes, which means 415 miles since last November. In the grand scheme of things that is a relatively small number. But two years ago it might as well have been 4 million.

– I took nearly twice the GU that I normally do and it didn’t even move the needle. Did I mention it was hot and humid?

– Of course, because this was a Rock ‘n’ Roll event, holy crap there was a lot of support. The race swag was cool, and this was my first race expo. Which I enjoyed a rather lot. I am irrationally excited to be in legitimate possession of a 13.1 sticker.

– Having Frank Shorter at the start line was more motivational to me than I thought it would be. Seriously – there was an Olympic Gold Medalist right there. Smiling at us.

– Seven months in a row running a race, with races scheduled for October, November, and December. I’ll get to 10, at which point, all bets are off.

– I am officially announcing that I have signed up for the Rock ‘n’ Roll USA Marathon in March. It’s not that I’m partial to the Rock ‘n’ Roll folks, but more that the timing and the location worked with my calendar. My long runs are going to have to hurt less than that half did for me to stay excited about that distance.

– Next race: Celtic Classic 5k … and I intend to improve my 5k PR by several minutes. Seriously – I’m going to try and bomb this one.

I barely even remember this...

I barely even remember this…