RR #30: Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

This is part two of my report of the 2018 Dark Side Half Marathon weekend – I again did the First Order Challenge, which means I ran the 10k on Saturday and the half marathon on Sunday.  I talked about the expo and the 10k here.  This is the race report for the half marathon.

 So – a recap of where we are:  I had just hit a massive PR on the 10k, in a crowded runDisney race.  I was feeling really good about life in general, really.  Saturday after the 10k I was able to legitimately rest.  I took a nap with my three-year-old, and my wife made a spaghetti dinner.  Because I’m still working on that last stubborn 20 pounds to lose, I hadn’t had spaghetti in a while and it was nice to be able to enjoy it guilt-free … including the seconds.

My goal for this whole weekend was to PR the 10k (check!) and then just get out there and have fun on the half marathon.  I ran past some photo ops when I ran the half last year, and so I intended to make sure and get those this year during the run.  The ice cave on Hoth, in particular, was a picture I regretted missing out on in 2017.  So I wasn’t too worried about preparation or anything for this race – mostly I was just planning to survive it.

The weather wound up being a pre-race story.  I’d intended to go to bed around 8pm, but I was pretty wound up for whatever reason, and the forecast wasn’t looking so good.  All week they’d been calling for a good chance of rain on Sunday morning around race time, but by 8pm the night before they were saying a 70% chance of thunderstorms between 6:30am and 7:30am – right at the time when they would have nearly every runner on the course.  If there was going to be lightning they were going to have to call this off, or at least delay it – and then, of course, there was the question of whether I wanted to go run in the rain at all given that I wasn’t taking the race all that seriously.  In particular, I didn’t know (still don’t, really) how they would handle the character photos if it was raining.  So I stayed up too late researching how and when we would know if they called the race off and finally went to sleep sometime around 9:30pm.

So the 2am alarm sucked, as you can imagine.  I immediately pulled up the weather … and they had pushed the rain forecast all the way out to 10am at the earliest – some services had it pushed out until the afternoon.  The race was on!  I had some coffee, fixed a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and toasted a bagel, and headed out to Epcot.  Same deal for parking as we had on the 10k – park at the finish line at Epcot, long walk over to some busses, bus over to the start line in the Magic Kingdom parking lot.

Image taken at 3:19am …

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RR #29 – 2018 Star Wars Dark Side 10k

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.

Star Wars!

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.

Imagine WWoS, with John Williams’ genius music in the background…

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RR #27: Celebration Rotary Club Pancake Run 5k

I thought that Ragnar DC was going to be my last run for a while.  My plan had been to run that event, enjoy myself, and then take some time off from running to focus on some CrossFit goals.  I like how running makes me feel, but sometimes the actual doing of the thing is not my favorite.  And then, I ran Ragnar DC, and the curious thing that happens when you get around other runners having a good time … happened.  We started talking about the next events we want to run, the next races.  We started making plans.  And the next thing I know, I’m signing up for races.

I ran the Celebration Rotary Club Pancake Run 5k last year.  That was my first real attempt at getting back into running shape and running a race.  That 2016 Pancake Run represented my first “serious” race in over two years.  And I had a good run – I missed a PR by a minute or so, which was still a good outcome for me.  The race was pretty well run, though small, which wasn’t helped by the fact that it was raining and not a generally nice day.

My sign-up for the Pancake Run this year was prompted by two things.  First, I thought I was capable of finally breaking through the 30 minute barrier in a 5k.  The fat guy holy grail of a sub-30 minute 5k had eluded me now for several races, and this looked like an opportunity to get it done.  For whatever reason, 5k races don’t make my calendar much anymore.  Since that Pancake Run last year, I have run three 10ks, two half marathons, and a Ragnar … but no more 5ks.  This was a chance to see what I had. Read more

RR# 26, continued: Ragnar Washington DC – Part 2

This is part two of my Ragnar Washington DC race report – if you haven’t read part one, you should click on this right now to head over there and read that first.

When we left off, we were pulling into Exchange #12 for our first break of the event.  The exchange was at a high school, and I have never seen so many white vans in one place in my life.  People everywhere.  The school had a spaghetti dinner they were selling as a fundraiser, and access to showers, as well, so there were some nice amenities.  There was also a big shady area back behind their tennis courts where everybody was taking sleeping bags to go lie down … a sea of runners, in repose. Read more

RR #26: Ragnar Washington DC – Part 1

OK – it is time.

Let’s talk about Ragnar.

So … last Thanksgiving I ran a 10k (still stands as my 10k PR, ahem) with my sister-in-law and very good friends who’s house we were crashing in the DC area.  Great morning, great race, really had a good time.  During the drive, somebody mentioned a Ragnar, and it turned out that none of the runners in the van had ever run a Ragnar … except me.  A sister had, but other than that no direct experience.  And everybody just casually said what a great idea it would be to do one of those things one day, and wouldn’t that be fun?

Yeah – I tend to be the type that actively tries to move things from talking to doing.  Especially at that time, I was reading a book that really had me thinking hard about the choices I was making and what I wanted to do with my time and energy.  So the week after Thanksgiving, after stewing on the idea for a few days, I realized that it wasn’t going to happen if somebody didn’t take the ball and run with it … so I sent an email out and volunteered to be captain.  By the second week of December, we were signed up for Ragnar Washington DC, to be run in late September, from Cumberland, Maryland, to Washington, DC. Read more

Race Report #24: 2017 Star Wars Dark Side 10K

This is part 1 of my Dark Side Challenge race report – you can see the half marathon review here.

Hi.  My name is Matthew – and I’m a Star Wars nerd.

I own that.  Really own it.  And so it was a natural fit to make my first runDisney race … the Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon.  But, in a fit of optimism brought about by a 10K PR on Thanksgiving, I did something that may seem foolish.  I signed up for the Dark Side Challenge.  This means I signed up for a 10K on Saturday AND a half marathon on Sunday.

Yikes.

I’m going to break this up into two posts – I’ll talk about the expo and the 10K in this one, and then the half marathon in the next one.

Needless to say (but I’m going to say it anyway), runDisney races are a big deal.  People come from all over the world for a chance to run through the different parks and take pictures with the themed characters.  Several characters come out especially for these races – you don’t see them at other times.  They estimated 14,000 people started the 10K – looks like just under 11,000 finished – and then 20,000 for the half marathon.  Even though many of those are the same people that ran both races (like me) – that’s still a ton of folks.   And, in typical Disney fashion, they’ve got it very well organized. Read more

RR #22: Ashburn Farm 10K

In retrospect, I should have expected the email.  For whatever reason, though, I didn’t, and was a bit surprised when:

“Looking forward to seeing everybody on Thanksgiving – hey, there is a 10K about 45 minutes away – anybody want to do that?”

So, I signed up for a 10K on Thanksgiving morning. Read more

RR #21: The Florida Run at Lake Louisa State Park

Update – 12/19/2016 – the race published pictures!  I talked about each individual picture here, but I want to come back in and put them into this post for anybody that might be looking for reports on this race.  Pictures!

Here’s how the website describes, in part, The Florida Run at Lake Louisa State Park:

Known as one of Central Florida’s more challenging and unique races, the course will take runners on paved surfaces, dirt trails, grass trails and some sand.

Lake Louisa State Park is in Clermont, Florida, about a 30 minute drive from the house.  I was worried about timing for my traditional pre-run oatmeal, so I had my coffee and a bowl of cereal, snagged a couple of Lara bars, and headed out.  I have visited the park before – and I hit the gate at about 6:20am for an 8am start.  Normally the park opens at 8am, but they make an exception on race day.  I made my way to the back of the park and headed over to the lakeside bathrooms for a quick break … and saw this – which is a sunrise that you normally don’t get to see:

2016-11-12-06-39-44

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RR #19 – The Great American Bacon Race

Selecting my first “race” (event is really more correct, but they’re called races so we’ll go with that) back from my little hiatus was an interesting thought experiment.  I’m new to the area, so I want to explore – but my son is older, too, and it would be fun to not have to drive so far and maybe the family could come.  Based on timing and theme, I chose The Great American Bacon Race in Tampa.

The Great American Bacon Race advertises itself as a bacon-themed 5K series, with everything that you’d think comes with that.  They started doing this in 2014, and they’ve only got three – Orlando in August, Miami in September, and Tampa in October.  The website is short on information (course maps, etc.) but long on really good advertising and playing up the theme.  I figured it couldn’t hurt – what the heck?  That’s about an hour drive, but since it didn’t start until 9 I thought maybe the family could come – and we might get some bacon, besides.  So I signed up.

The race goes down at the Florida State Fairgrounds – so pay $6 to park, park on the grass, and a decent hike in to the check-in.  About halfway on that hike from the parking lot, the smell starts happening.

Bacon smells amazing.

No check-in bag – just your bib, your safety pins, and a strip attached to your bib that you use to go get your shirt.  So I lined up for my shirt, and then took it all back to my car to pin the bib and put the shirt away and kill a few minutes.

About an hour before the race started, people started circulating with huge pans of bacon that were being cooked on big griddles over by the finish line.  Just huge piles of bacon.  They said at one point that about 1,000 registered, and they had around 20,000 slices of bacon.

One of the thing about themed races like this is that they appeal to non-runners, and that was evident immediately.  There were a lot of kids and a lot of people with non-traditional running body shapes.  This is not a critique, just a fact – one look at me and you know I have no place for critiques.  There were a lot of costumes – many bacon themed ones, of course, but also tutus and pig ears and something that looked like a sandwich that I never really understood.  And, a solid hour before the scheduled race start, several of the kids and costumes started lining up at the start line, which, well, tells anybody that is taking this seriously what is going to happen in the first half mile.  No judgies, just statement of fact.

Notice the children and people in costume.  Also, you can see me clearly, if you look.
Notice the children and people in costume. Also, you can see me clearly, if you look.

They got everybody lined up, countdown from 10, fire the horn, and we’re off.

First thing, I was right about the chaos in the first several hundred yards.  I lined up in the front third or so of the pack because I knew what was about to happen, and I was still dodging walkers immediately.  There was one apparent incident where a woman was tripped and fell, too.  If I were going to give a single piece of feedback to the organizers it would be on this point – add signs for expected finish times, including one for walkers at the back, and make it clear over and over that walkers need to start back there.

Great American Bacon Race Map

Now, take a look at the screenshot of the course map that I got off of my Garmin.  It turns out that putting together a 3.1 mile run inside the Florida State Fairgrounds requires a lot of out and back weaving, most of it in parking lots.  The first mile or so was all in the parking area, with each “back” leg right into the sun.  Then we peeled off, passed the first Bacon Station on the course (I expected two, but never did see the second one) and ran over near the barns and the rodeo & livestock arenas, which was much more interesting.  Then another half mile or so weaving through a parking lot, and then a bit of looping through where the midway would be, and then around to the finish.

First, and I normally give massive benefit of the doubt on this one, but that course was not 3.1 miles long.  My Garmin stopped at 2.83, and my phone, which was tracking because I had an episode of Zombies! Run going, stopped at just over 2.9.  So it appears to have been about a quarter of a mile short.  Some of that is likely due to all of the weaving around – how you take corners and run the lines makes a difference, so there is that.  Benefit of the doubt has been given.

2015-10-03 09.36.53-1

Another interesting phenomenon – there was one couple in particular that stood out as non-traditional runner.  He was dressed up as a slice of bacon, and both of them were significantly larger than I am.  They were at the start line at 8am for a 9am start, and were among the first half-dozen people off the line when the gun went off.  As expected, I blew by them in the first minute, and wound around to start my out and around weaving.  Because of all of the weaving, you can see everybody that isn’t going all speed racer, and at about half a mile in … they were ahead of me again.  What the hell?  Took me a couple of minutes to catch them, and then maybe a mile later … they were ahead of me again.  It took me forever to figure out that they were cutting through and not completing all of the loops.

The bastards were power-leveling the 5K course.

Once I figured that out, I noticed it from several people, including one older (but fit-looking) lady that had come over to me at the beginning of the race for the express purpose of telling me she’d already had two Bloody Marys and that she planned on having fun.  This activity distracted me.  I know I shouldn’t let it bother me, but it does.  Skipping whole sections of this thing is not how this works.  I don’t care how much you love bacon, if you want to take credit for finishing a 5K, you’ve got to earn that by finishing a 5K.  Dammit.

My official finishing time was 35:34.4, and my watch had the exact same time but only 2.83 miles.  If I extrapolate up from the pace I covered my last half-mile at, this would have been a roughly 39 minute 5K, in my estimation.  My stated goal was to just go and do it, and I did that, and it was awesome.  My non-stated, but like-to-have goal was to make sure this stayed under 40 minutes.  Check.  And my dream goal was to get under my first ever 5K time, which was 38:15 … that didn’t happen, but I’m happy nonetheless.  It felt really good to get back out there.

2015-10-03 09.37.45
A finish line picture!

Notes:

  •  No, really – it felt GREAT to get back out there.  There is just an energy around these events.  Being around generally fit people is inspiring.  Being around generally not-fit people who are working their asses off is inspiring.  Just being a part of something going on is exciting.  I love seeing new things and being out in the morning.  Really – getting back out there was a good thing.
  •  My hat, it turns out, does a poor job of stopping sweat.  And one of the things about running in the daytime versus in the morning before sunrise is that I sweat more.  And it all ran into my eyes.  And stung.  So I purchased a headband at the race, and I’ve got another, and I’m going to see how I like headbands.
  • The running-through-the-parking-lot bits of this were tedious, but the other parts of the race – the barns and the arenas and the midway – that was pretty cool.  It would be nice for that course to try and incorporate more of that.
  • I never walked.  I spent a lot of time around people that were doing a run-walk strategy – they’d blow by me when they were running, and then I’d pass them 30 – 60 seconds later when they were walking.  But I kept ’em churning.  Nobody impressed me more than the speed-walking lady that passed me at about mile 2, though.  I had passed her early in the race, but apparently I slowed down and she hit her stride, because, wow.
  • No real swag in terms of a bag of crap.  But the quality of what we got was quite high.  We got a medal, which is something I’m not accustomed to in a 5K.  I almost feel bad about hanging it next to my half-marathon medals – but not bad enough to not hang it.  The bib was specific for this event, which I love, and the shirt was a very high quality cotton shirt with a nice logo – a shirt I’ll actually wear.  One thing about for-profit races, they don’t need to fill their shirts with sponsor logos, so that helps.  In the picture below, I purchased the headband only…

    SWAG
    SWAG
  • Next Race:  Celebration Rotary Club Pancake Breakfast 5K on October 31st. Hopefully this one winds up being somewhat faster.  We’ll see.

Throwback Thursday – RR #18 – Phillips 10K Trail Run/Walk

Aaaaand – we’ve got a continuity issue.

This event was my 4th, in June of 2013.  If anybody is counting, that would make it race report #4.  However, I never did a race report on this event – some of which was laziness, some of which was politeness, some of which was dissatisfaction with my performance – and continued to number the rest of them – numerically.  So I had run 18 events, but only had 17 race reports, numbered 1 – 17.  This can be confusing, and it is just frankly time to true this up.  So this report is delayed by over 2 years, but without further delay…

I signed up for the Phillips 10K Trail Run without, frankly, knowing what I was doing.  This was the second year for the organizers of this event, and a new course for them in Lewis Morris Park near Morristown, New Jersey.

I did two things wrong going into this.  First, I randomly bought a pair of low-drop trail running shoes online, thinking that they’d be magical.  And second, I didn’t really do a lot of training on trails.  There was some of that, sure, but they were relatively short runs on relatively well maintained trails.  My achilles tendons hurt like mad whenever I wore those shoes, but I tried to ignore it and headed into this race – my first 10K – thinking I was ready.

Turns out, I was not.

I made the hour drive out to Morristown, and about the time I got there I got a call from my wife saying they had decided to come along, too, and would be there when I finished the race.  That was exciting, because this was the first time they were able to come and cheer for me since that first race in March.

Head into the parking lot, park the car, open the door, and step into a very strange sound landscape – a low level drone that never ended – a constant buzz with no direction at all.  It turned out to be cicadas – this was during the big cicada takeover in the summer of 2013, and they were EVERYWHERE.  Flying around, on trees and tables and benches, and just generally making a nuisance of themselves.  My son, as you might imagine, was fascinated.

Cicada #1 Cicada #2

 

 

They lined us up and off we went – the 5K runners (200 – 300 people) went one way, the 10K runners (all 30 or so of us) went the other.  The course itself was a hiking / biking single-track through this big park, and was generally pretty.  There were a couple of stream crossings and several good hills, and in general it would have been a pleasant hike.  There were four things, though, that wound up making it a fairly unpleasant run for me, and then one other really big thing that made it a very unpleasant run for everybody else.

1.  I had not anticipated that about 300 – 400 yards into the race the course would drop to single track on a hill – meaning nobody could pass me.  I wound up running entirely too fast in the first mile just to try and get out of everybody’s way.  That was a mistake.

2.  There were proper, 500 – 600 foot elevation gain hills.  I hadn’t prepared enough for that, and coupled with a fast start, they wore me down quickly.

3.  The course was not closed, and the trail turns out to be popular among mountain bikers.  And they, to a man (all men), refused to yield.  Dodging the cyclists sucked.

4.  About 4 miles in, I had hit a groove and was feeling really good when I stepped on a root and turned my ankle very badly.  It was the same ankle that I had injured at the close of my first race, back in March of 2013, and though I was able to eventually walk it off, that mile was more of a stumble than a walk, and certainly not a run.

The course came close to the finish line about half a mile before the actual finish line, so I was able to see my wife and son, and she told me about the bigger issue before I looped around and finished.

The biggest issue on the course was signage.  Because the overall course was a network of hiking trails, there were a lot of intersections and they weren’t always signed very well. But there was a particularly bad one at roughly the 3.5 mile mark.  The ground was flat and a trail T-ed off to the right of the direction we were running … and there was a tree right across from that intersection with a sign that could be interpreted as either “Turn Right” or “Go Straight”.  What they actually wanted us to do was turn right.  I wound up going straight, but not very far before I second guessed it and doubled back.  A few yards down the correct path you could see another sign, but only if you looked.  Fortunately, I looked, so I didn’t get lost.

Others were not so fortunate.  One lady apparently had a sizable lead and was going to win the race but missed that turn and tacked on another mile.  Several others had the same issue.  The crowd at the award ceremony after was not … friendly.  After it was all over we got an email from the organizers offering to refund our money, but I don’t think anybody took them up on it.

This was the only race I’ve ever run where I came in functionally last (as opposed to DFL).  Not technically last – there were two walkers, each of which finished 30 – 45 minutes behind me – but for those of us trying to run it, I came in last by about a minute.  The award ceremony was almost over when I crossed the finish line.  I was limping, exhausted, and muddy.  But my family was there, and I felt prouder to have done that than I think I would have if it were easier – I conquered that sucker, you know?

My time was a robust 1 hour, 26 minutes, and 17 seconds, for a 13.55 / mile pace that stands as the worst official performance of my running “career”.

Notes:

– One upside to doing this as my first 10K was that it was extraordinarily easy to PR in the next 10K.

– That was the last time I ran in those shoes.  I was so sore for the next three days that I needed a scapegoat.  They were thrown in the garbage with something like 30 miles on them.

– I’m also not convinced that the course was a full 6.1 miles – my watch only said about 5.5 miles, and the mile marker signs never seemed to align with what my watch was saying.  But, if they are calling it a 10K, I’m going with it.

– This did not sour me on the idea of trail races – in fact, I think I could really enjoy them – but it made me painfully aware that the preparation for trail races is different than the preparation for road races.  Especially now that I’m in Florida, that could be challenging.

– Decent SWAG – I obviously don’t remember everything in the bag, but they did have a branded refrigerator magnet, and the shirt became one of my favorites – I wore it a lot, as you can see in the picture below.

– The next race after this one was the CHK 4K, which I enjoyed a rather lot.

cropped-chk_4k.jpg
Not from the Phillips 10K, but I’m wearing the shirt I got at the Phillips 10K